An initiative aimed at attracting more lawyers to B.C.'s northern and remote communities will continue for another year, B.C. Law Society president Art Vertlieb said Wednesday.
The Law Society confirmed its contribution last week, Vertlieb said, with the Canadian Bar Association B.C. branch and the B.C. Law Foundation also contributing equal shares to the $150,000 Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) program.
The program places second-year law students in firms based in cities and towns with less than 100,000 people and a greater than 500 person-to-lawyer ratio to give them a taste of what it's like to practice in a smaller community.
This year, two students worked at firms in Prince George for the summer thanks to the program.
Because Rural REAL is so young - it was launched in spring 2009 - number gauging its effectiveness are not available but Vertlieb thinks it's made a difference.
"Our instincts are we've got students going to communities they would not have considered before and believe some are staying," Vertlieb said.
"It's a bit of a cycle - when you're dealing with law students, they've still got some time to spend in school, then they've got to article - they're still early in their career."
The funding for REAL was one of a handful of points Vertlieb planned to bring up when he was in Prince George on Wednesday to speak to local lawyers and other legal professionals.
Speaking from Vancouver while waiting for a delayed flight to Prince George, Vertlieb said he was to give an update on a project to allow paralegals to appear in court to deal on less-complicated matters and save clients money in the process.
Prince George is one of the communities where a two-year pilot project was launched in January. The program is limited to family law cases and Vertlieb wants it expanded to other fields.
"We knew that when the pilot project was restricted to family law, it was simply just a start," Vertlieb said.
"We didn't think there would be a lot of take up for a bunch of reasons that we in the profession knew would be present and that's proving to be the case.
"The real need in the paralegal project is to open it generally to provincial court and having paralegals be able to go and help people in small claims, which is under $25,000, that's where we can really make a difference."
Vertlieb also supports allowing paralegals to make presentations in Supreme Court on some of the more procedural motions.
Asked about ongoing efforts to make the legal system in B.C. more streamlined and effective, Vertlieb said it is encouraging to see the judges deciding to get involved.
"It you're going to have changes to streamline things, the judges have to be part of that discussion," Vertlieb said.
"That's what gives me the confidence there will be change. It's not going to be quick but at least meaningful change is going to occur, I believe."